UEFA Europa League debutants Astra Giurgiu and Pandurii Targu Jiu both sealed their place in the play-off round on Thursday.
Romania’s Astra came into their home clash with Trencin holding a 3-1 lead, and managed to retain that advantage to run out 5-3 aggregate victors despite a crazy final 10 minutes that saw four goals.
The Slovakian visitors netted in the 83rd minute through Fanendo Adi before Astra’s Mirko Ivanovski equalised in the 86th, and the pattern was repeated when Gino van Kessel netted just 60 seconds prior to Fwayo Tembo as the game ended 2-2.
Pandurii’s meeting with Hapoel Tel-Aviv was arguably less chaotic, though they needed to come from a goal behind as Eric Pereira and Alexandru Ciucur struck to hand them a 2-1 victory on the night and a 3-2 aggregate success.
And Kukesi, the lowest ranked team in the competition, ensured Thursday would indeed be the day of the underdog in the Europa League, as their 1-0 defeat to Metalurh Donetsk in Ukraine saw them through 2-1 on aggregate.
The Albanian outfit ominously conceded with just 27 minutes on the clock, but held out even after Enco Malindi was red-carded with over quarter of an hour remaining.
That trio will join a host of illustrious names in the play-off round after they also sealed their passage on Thursday.
Saint-Etienne were among them, earning a 6-0 aggregate win with a 3-0 victory over Milsami away from home, while Swansea City needed only a 0-0 draw against Malmo to take a 4-0 success overall.
Elsewhere, braces for Coke and Raul Rusescu helped Sevilla win 6-1 at Mladost Podgorica – 9-1 on aggregate – as Standard Liege completed a 4-2 win over Xanthi by inflicting a 2-1 defeat on the night.
Udinese beat Siroki Brijeg 4-0 and 7-1 on aggregate and Club Brugge’s 3-3 draw with Slask Wroclaw saw them leave the competition courtesy of a 4-3 overall defeat.
Penalties were required to separate the teams in two of the ties.
Tromso ran out 4-3 victors on spot-kicks after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Differdange that levelled the tie, but St Johnstone’s fairytale run was ended against Minsk in the same fashion as they went down 3-2 following another 1-0 loss.
In other matches, Rubin Kazan, Dila Gori, Maccabi Haifa and Qarabag completed routine aggregate victories by taking second-leg success against Randers, Hajduk Split, Ventspils and Gefle respectively.
Bursaspor, Slovan Liberec, Thun and Jablonec also saw out their ties in comfortable fashion, beating Vojvodina, Zurich, Hacken and Stromsgodset.
Motherwell and Crvena Zvezda were not as fortunate, as they both saw penatlies saved before going out at the hands of Kuban Krasnodar and Chornomorets Odesa respectively.
Thursday also saw a flurry of red cards, with Hapoel Ramat Gan losing a man as they were defeated by Estoril and 10-man Zilina going out after drawing 1-1 with Rijeka.
Lech Poznan and Zaligiris went one better in Poland, though, with both teams having a player sent off as two goals in the last three minutes failed to help the hosts avoid a defeat on away goals.
Over in the Netherlands, Vitesse Arnhem suffered arguably the cruellest exit of the round, as a 95th-minute free-kick handed Petrolul a 2-1 win on the night and a 3-2 overall victory.
But there was joy for Trabzonspor, Stuttgart and Rapid Wien, who saw off Dinamo Minsk, Botev Plovdiv and Asteras to progress.
And, in the final match of the day, Aktobe of Kazakhstan defeated Iceland’s Breidablik 2-1 on penalties, after the latter had won the second leg 1-0 to level the tie at 1-1.
The first five penalty-takers failed to hit the target before Emil Kenzhisariev and Timur Kapadze slotted their spot-kicks for Aktobe, either side of Nichlas Rohde’s converted effort for Breidablik.
Andrey Sidelnikov made the decisive save for the Kazakhstani visitors, stopping Rene Troost’s penalty to send Aktobe into the play-offs.
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